Chapter 13 – Last Years of Married Life

    Last Years of Married Life

    IN 1880 Mr. and Mrs. Spurgeon removed from Nightingale Lane, Clapham, to “Westwood,” Beulah Hill, Norwood, their last home on earth. The remarkable circumstances attending the sale of the old house and the purchase of the new have been told fully in “The Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” and it is unnecessary to repeat the story here. The new home was a great improvement on the old; not only was it situated farther from the smoke and noise of London, but the rooms were much more ample and convenient than those of Helensburgh House, and the grounds covered nearly nine acres. The actual changing, however, was a time of much discomfort, although Mrs. Spurgeon’s health was far better than it had been for a long time past. “What a stirring up of one’s quiet nest this removal is,” she wrote in her diary, “and how tenderly one learns to look on familiar objects from which we are to be parted for ever. The heart yearns over a place endeared by an intimate acquaintance of twenty-three years and full of happy and solemn associations. Every nook and corner, both of house and garden, abounds with sweet or sorrowful memories, and the remembrance of manifold mercies cling like a rich tapestry to the walls of the desolate rooms. On this spot nearly a quarter of a century of blissful wedded life has been passed, and though both husband and wife have been called to suffer severe physical pain and months of weakness within its boundary, our house has been far oftener a ‘Bethel’ to us than a ‘Bochim.’ The very walls might cry out against us as ungrateful did we not silence them by our ceaseless thanksgiving, for the Lord has here loaded us with benefits and consecrated every inch of space with tokens of His great lovingkindness. The sun of His goodness has photographed every portion of our dear home upon our hearts, and though other lights and shadows must be reflected there in coming days, they can never obliterate the sweet images which grateful memory will jealously preserve. Tender remembrance ‘will render indelible the pictures of the sick chamber — which so many times had almost been ‘the gate of heaven’ to our spirit; the little room, tenderly fitted up by a husband’s careful love, and so often the scene of a scarcely hoped-for convalescence; the study — sacred to the Pastor’s earnest work and silent witness of wrestlings and communings known only to God and his own soul; the library — where the shelves gladly suffered a constant spoliation and renewal for the blessed work of the Book Fund. “It is hard to leave all these sympathetic surroundings and dwell in the house of a stranger, but we believe we have seen the cloudy pillar move, and heard our Leader’s voice bidding us ‘go forward,’ so in trustful obedience we strike our tent and prepare to depart to the place of which He has told us. And our new home may be to us a ‘Tabor’ if our Lord will but dwell with us there.”

    After the removal, Mrs. Spurgeon was delighted with her new home. “In spite of the turmoil and trouble caused by the painful process of removal,” she writes, “our first fortnight on Beulah’s Hill has been a time of great and unaccustomed joy. Blest for this period with a singular accession of health and strength, the new owners together visited the various spots of interest in their little kingdom, making pleasant discoveries every day; now tracing a winding garden path to some unexpected opening, now looking with growing admiration upon the glorious views of earth and sky, ever breathing the bright, clear air with a lively sense of exhilaration and refreshment, and constantly pausing to marvel at the goodness of God in choosing such an inheritance for them. It seems almost like living a new life, and as if pain and sickness were left ‘behind in the valley for ever ….. These bright days and golden hours may not last long, but they are very precious in present possession, and will leave blissful memories behind them.”

    On Saturdays, here, as in their other homes, husband and wife would work together in the preparation of the sermon which the former was to deliver on the coming morning, and happy indeed were the times thus spent. Sometimes when the preacher had been unable to settle upon a text, he would say, “Wifey, what shall I do? God has not given me a text yet,” and Mrs. Spurgeon would comfort him as well as she could. Perhaps she would be able to suggest a suitable passage, in which case her husband, after preaching, would give her due credit in referring to the sermon by saying: “You gave me that text.” When the lady was called into the study on these Saturday evenings by her husband there was always an easy chair, she tells us, drawn up to the table by Mr. Spurgeon’s side, and a number of open books piled one upon another from which she used to read as directed by her husband. “‘With these old volumes around him he was like a honey-bee amid the flowers; he seemed to know how to extract and carry off the sweet spoils from the most unpromising-looking tome among them. His acquaintance with them was so familiar and complete that he could at once place his hand on any author who had written upon the portion of Scripture which was engaging his attention; and I was, in this pleasant fashion, introduced to many of the Puritan and other divines, whom otherwise I might not have known.”

    The change to Norwood, it was anticipated, might be of benefit to C. H. Spurgeon’s health, and render unnecessary those annual winterings at Mentone. But this did not prove to be the case. His painful ailment continued, and the sad partings of husband and wife had to go on year after year, he thinking of her in the lonely house in England, she full of anxiety for the loved one away on the Riviera, whose agony from the gout was oftentimes beyond endurance. But even then his letters to his wife were full of humor so as to cheer her and make things seem as bright as possible. “I feel as if I were emerging from a volcano,” he once wrote at the commencement of a convalescence, and on the notepaper he had sketched a hill from the crater of which his head and shoulders were rising.

    As time went on the preacher’s illnesses became longer, and the painfulness of his malady more acute. In November, 1890, he went to, Mentone full of hope, and on arriving wrote to Mrs. Spurgeon: “What heavenly sunshine! This is like another world. I cannot quite believe myself to be on the same planet. God grant that this may set me all right! Only three other visitors in the hotel — three American ladies — room for you.” But the next day the dreadful gout attacked the patient’s right hand and arm. Even then he wrote: “The day is like one in Eden before our first parents fell. When my head is better I shall enjoy it. I have eau de Cologne dripped on to my hot brain-box; and as I have nothing to do, but to look out on the perfect scene before me, my case is not a ‘bad one.” The attack, however, increased in virulence, and for eight days he was unable himself to, write to Mrs. Spurgeon; but he sent a message through his private secretary: “Give her my love, and say I am very bad, and I wish I were at home for her to nurse me; but as I am not, I shall be helped through somehow.” Then came a, letter, almost unreadable, so difficult a task had the tracing of the characters been: “Beloved, to lose right hand is; to be dumb. I am better except at night. Could not love his darling more. Wished myself at home when pains came, but when worst this soft clear air helps me. It is as heavens gate. All is well. Thus have I stammered a line or two. Not quite dumb, bless the Lord! What a good Lord He is! I shall yet praise Him. Sleeplessness cannot so embitter the night as to make me fear when He is near.” The letter was signed, “Your own beloved Benjamite” — a humorous reference to the fact that it had been written with the left hand. After this, progress was slow, but such expressions as, “Oh, that you were here!” clearly show how he longed to have his wife by his side. On December 8th he wrote, gleefully: “Today I dressed myself,” and concluded, “You write so sweetly. Yours is a hand which sets to music all it writes to me. God bless you! But you don’t say how you are. If you do not, I will write every day.” Mrs. Spurgeon had lovingly sought to conceal her own weakness, so as not to give any additional pain to her husband. When the English winter proved to be very cold, he wrote: “Poor darling to be so cold. The Lord will soon hear prayer and send the soft South wind upon you, and then I also shall get well, and go out for walks and praise His Name. I wish I could think of something to cast a gleam of sunlight over ‘Westwood’ If my love were light you would live in the sun. I shall send you some roses tomorrow, and they will prophesy of better days,” and a few days later: “I keep on praying for change of weather for you and the poor and sick. I wish I could send you a brazier of the coals of my heart, which have a most vehement flame.” Such was the correspondence which passed between this devoted couple in the closing days of their united lives, for although Mrs. Spurgeon’s own letters are not available, it is clear from a reference here and there in her husband’s replies that they were of a like, loving character.

    Christmas was passed by the preacher in much pain, which, however, did not prevent him “digging away at books and letters.” Then on New Year’s Day, 1891, he writes: “A happy New Year to you, my sweetest and best! I would write it in the biggest of capitals If that would show how happy I wish this year to be’ …. I have been for a drive in the delicious summer sunshine. Oh, that you had been at my side! I have just read your sweet, sweet letter. You best-beloved of my heart, how I wish I could change your weather! I can only pray but prayer moves the hand which moves winds and clouds. The Lord Himself comfort you and bear you up under all troubles, and make up to you, by His own presence, the absence of health, warmth and husband!”

    Then on Mrs. Spurgeon’s birthday she received a letter in which her husband said: “I trust this will reach you on your own dear birthday. Ten thousand benedictions be upon you!… What an immeasurable blessing you have been to me and are still. Your patience in suffering and diligence in service are works of the Holy Spirit in you for which I adore His Name. Your love to me is not only a product of nature, but it has been so sanctified by grace that it has become a spiritual blessing to me. May you still be upheld, and if you may not be kept from suffering, may you be preserved from sinking!”

    All this time, although suffering so severely herself, Mrs. Spurgeon was working indefatigably to help others. The Book Fund and the Pastors’ Aid Fund were in full swing, and in order to give some relief to the poor of Thornton Heath, who were thrown out of work and in dire straits on account of the prolonged frost, she opened a soup kitchen at Westwood, and distributed coals freely among the people. C. H. Spurgeon hearing of this, wrote: “I am so glad you feed the poor; spend £10 for me, please; don’t stint anything.”

    At last on February 2nd the patient, apparently much improved in health, started for England, writing to his wife on the same morning a note which concluded with the words, “Blessed be God that we are spared to each other.” But the apparent improvement was far from being real or permanent. This is not the place in which to give a detailed account of C. H. Spurgeon’s final days in England. He preached at the Tabernacle for the last time on Sunday morning, June 7th, 1891, and then directly afterwards his illness took an alarming turn, and a fatal issue was feared. Mrs. Spurgeon was an indefatigable nurse, and the sympathy of the whole nation went out to her in her sore trial. Mr. Gladstone wrote: “In my own home, darkened at the present time, I have read with sad interest the daily accounts of Mr. Spurgeon’s illness, and I cannot help conveying to you the earnest assurance of my sympathy with you and with him, and of ray cordial admiration, not only of his splendid powers, but still more of his devoted and unfailing character. May I humbly commend you and him in all contingencies to the infinite stores of the Divine love and mercy.” Many other distinguished people, including a number of the Bishops, also wrote to Mrs. Spurgeon. The patient did not get better, and on October 26th he started for Mentone, accompanied this time by his wife, as well as by a number of friends. Later, Miss E. H. Thorne, Mrs. Spurgeon’s companion and friend, joined the party, and these two ladies took it in turns to nurse the invalid who at first seemed to benefit by the warm Southern sun. But on January 20th serious symptoms set in and Mr. Spurgeon had to take to his bed, from which he never again rose. After remaining unconscious for five days he passed away on January 31st, 1892, in ‘the presence of his wife and four intimate friends.

    The loss, as may be imagined, was a terrible one for the devoted wife, but she was sustained by the knowledge that sooner or later she would join her husband where there are no more partings. In the death chamber, so soon as the first shock was over, the: little party knelt down, and Mr. Harrald, the preacher’s private secretary, offered prayer, being followed by Mrs. Spurgeon, who thanked the Lord for the precious treasure so long lent to her, and sought at the throne of grace strength and guidance for the future. Later she was able to cable to her son Thomas, in Australia, “Father in Heaven Mother resigned.” From all parts of the world messages of condolence reached her, those from England including expressions of sympathy from our present King and Queen. The body was removed to this country for burial without delay, and Mrs. Spurgeon sent with the remains a number of palm branches from Mentone to be placed round the coffin while it stood in the Tabernacle. Mrs. Spurgeon herself remained on the Riviera for some time longer as the guest of Mr. Hanbury at La Mortola. “There amid the olive-groves and rose-covered terraces,” she says, “the dear Master taught me His estimate of true affection by recalling to my mind His own words to His disciples, ’If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I go to the Father,’ and thus He made me understand that the thought of my darling’s everlasting bliss must overcome and banish my own selfish grief and sorrow.”

    From the book The Life of Susannah Spurgeon by Charles Ray


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